Internet tax research, once a novelty, is now the standard, with a number of publishers offering publications that are only available online."We still subscribe to some paper products, but using the Web-based versions is much more efficient," said Cindy Hockenberry, tax information analyst at the Appleton, Wis.-based National Association of Tax Professionals. "The transition in going from paper to online was not as difficult as we anticipated. Books are still useful where you know where a topic is that you researched before, but the search engines on the different platforms make up for that. And it's incredibly helpful to have immediate access to all the cross references that you might not have thought about."
"We use the Internet for research more than anything else," revealed Misty O'Brien, tax manager at Hilo, Hawaii-based Takita, Iwata, Hara & Associates LLC. "It's so much easier to search and know that you're getting the most up-to-date information."
Meanwhile, tax research vendors continue to emphasize greater content, improved functionality and enhanced integration with other programs.
And Internet research is becoming increasingly platform-agnostic, as different publishers make their material available on each other's platforms.
"Our competitors are also our collaborators," explained Gretchen Zekiel, BNA's product manager for corporate and legal.
"We compete with our partners and partner with our competitors," echoed Charles Ter Bush, vice president and managing director of tax and accounting at LexisNexis.
"It's all about the content," said Zekiel. "We've received favorable feedback in making our portfolios available on every platform, as well as our own."
For example, BNA Portfolios are available on CCH's Tax Research Network, RIA's Checkpoint, and LexisNexis. TRN allows searches not only within CCH material, but also key industry Web sites and, using Google, the entire Internet. Checkpoint includes access to BNA, Practitioners Publishing Co., and Warren Gorham & Lamont titles. The LexisNexis Tax Center integrates material from BNA, CCH, Kleinrock and Tax Analysts, as well as its sister company, Matthew Bender.
Meanwhile, LexisNexis has added its own Tax Advisor - Federal Topical service to its Tax Center. The new LexisNexis service is a 35-volume online library written by 140 CPAs, tax attorneys and professors, and includes Shepard's Signal indicators to help researchers determine which regs, rulings and cases are the most up to date.
BNA has launched two new services: the Web-based IRS Practice Adviser, and a portfolio-based Accounting Policy & Practice Series. "The Practice Adviser offers guidance for whenever the practitioner has to deal with the IRS," said BNA product manager for tax and accounting Holly Flater. "It covers audits, appeals, collection, penalties and litigation. We developed the Accounting Policy and Practice Series not only for the financial accounting community, but for tax practitioners as well. Tax practitioners increasingly need guidance on accounting rules and standards."
MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER
"The integration of tax and accounting materials is critical," said Ter Bush. "Corporate tax pros are being forcibly reminded that they're also accounting professionals. A corporate tax vice president said that having to restate financials because of an error in a tax provision is his worst nightmare."
The frequency and complexity of changes to the tax code make research more important than ever, according to Ken Crutchfield, vice president of strategic marketing for the accounting market at Thomson Tax & Accounting. "The 109th Congress made 1,700 amendments to the Internal Revenue Code, about a 40 percent increase over the 108th Congress. At the state and local level, over 2,000 bills were introduced that had tax implications in 2006. ... It also means people have to rely on services more, because what you thought you knew may not be correct anymore."
"Tied in with this is the need to focus more on productivity," said Crutchfield. "It's a very tight labor market. ... Firms have to do more with less." As a result, he said, recent enhancements to Checkpoint are tied to ease of use and productivity.
"All of our accounting and auditing content are now available on Checkpoint," said Ron Burkert, Checkpoint product director. "We're developing new content or enabling existing content to have point-to-point linking where there is a natural synergy between topic areas."
Likewise, CCH has focused on ease of use and integrating its searches into customers' workflow, according to Tanya Rose, senior product manager for the Tax Research Network platform.
CCH@Hand is a good example of this, she said. This feature, which comes with a subscription to Tax Research Network, enables the user to access TRN from within a Microsoft program, such as Word, Excel or Outlook, without having to leave the document. "We've integrated CCH@Hand with Google," she said.
"The Holy Grail is Google-like search capability," said Ter Bush. "In terms of functionality, the continuing trend is ease of use, but one thing that hasn't changed is the value of content - you want to find an answer. People may Google first because that's the culture, but then they come to us to verify what they found." The commercial publisher provides validation, he explained, adding, "The other trend is increased risk in the tax world compared to five years ago. There's increased emphasis on tax accounting, increased IRS enforcement with gigantic settlements, and greater emphasis on international tax law."
Both CCH's Client Relate and RIA's Tax Alerts tools, which bridge tax research and tax compliance, have been enhanced and integrated with other content on their respective platforms. Tax Alerts is now available for Ultra Tax as well as GoSystem customers, said Burkert.
"We're enhancing our integration with Client Relate, with greater efficiency in identifying issues to help practitioners grow their customer base," said CCH's Rose.
Meanwhile, Tax Analysts has retooled its Federal Research Library, according to Alan Highman, editor-in-chief of reference services. "It's much more comprehensive, with greater depth. It includes all cases from all courts from 1913 on," he said. "The Internal Revenue manual is part of it, not an add-on. It also includes extensive legislative history and an archive area."
Intuit's Tax Almanac, a free online tax research community, provides an alternative to traditional tax research. Users can network with other tax professionals and find advice on any tax problem. It also contains Wiki-based articles on tax topics that can be accessed and updated by anyone.
"An expert on one side of the country can help someone who's not an expert," said TaxAlmanac.org moderator Tim Doyle. "Other than the code and regs, the content is fully editable by any other user."
Ultimately, content is still king, said Ter Bush: "Expert content is what people are seeking. If you do good tax research, you end up with good authority. But there are many ways to get there - read the treaty or statute first, read a topical service explanation or search a code-oriented service. Everyone has their own way of researching."
The pre-eminent advantage that online services have over print could well be in eliminating the filing necessary to keep up to date, according to the NATP's Hockenberry: "Now we don't spend untold man-hours updating the books."
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